As much as Google *pretends* to like SEOs by inviting us to parties at the Googleplex and posting on SEO forums, the bottom line is that they don't like us -- or rather, they don't like what we do. Google wants to find the best, most relevant sites for the search query at hand all by themselves. Perhaps someday they will actually be able to do that, but for now, they still need our help, whether they like it or not.

Unfortunately, unscrupulous SEOs have given Google good reasons not to like us. Because of search engine spammers, Google is constantly changing their ranking criteria and is always on the lookout for the telltale signs of SEO on any given site. It's not a huge stretch to say that they may even downgrade the sites that they believe have been SEO'd.

If you think that having your keyword phrases "in all the right places for SEO" is a good thing, think again! You're essentially telling Google, "Hey look...my site has been SEO'd!" To which they reply, "Thanks so much for letting us know... ZAP ... see ya later!" Doesn't matter if your site is the most relevant (in your mind) to the search query. Doesn't matter that you've placed your keyword phrases strategically throughout the site. That's actually the thing that may become your downfall.

Stuff that worked like a charm for many people in the early years of SEO may actually hurt rather than help now. As to what might trigger an SEO "red flag," my guess is that it's a combination of things. Like, if you have a certain number of traditional SEO factors on any given page, those may set off some Google warning bells (otherwise known as a spam filter).

Some of the traditional SEO formulaic elements that you may have been taught to use include putting the keyword phrase:

  • in the domain name
  • in the file name
  • in the Title tag
  • in the Meta description tag
  • in the Meta keyword tag o in the image alt attributes
  • in an H1 (or any H) tag
  • as the first words on the page
  • in bold and/or italics or a different color
  • multiple times in the first paragraph or twice on the page
  • in the copy in every single spot on the page where it might possibly make sense to use it, and
  • in all the hyperlinks pointing to a page.

If you put the same keyword phrase in many of those spots, you might very well trigger a spam filter. Since it's difficult to determine how many and which combinations of those things might trigger the filter, the best advice I can give you is to do your SEO without any particular formula in mind. That's how I've always done it and it's always worked because every site is unique and has different SEO needs.

Unfortunately, it's difficult to describe this type of SEO to others, as people are always looking for the magic formula. For as long as I've been doing SEO (over 12 years now), I've had it in the back of my mind that I wouldn't want to tip off the engines that my sites were SEO'd. This is one of the reasons I've never used keyword-rich domain names or file names. That's probably the most obvious SEO thing you can do.

The most important aspect to being a good SEO is creativity. You shouldn't worry too much about the specifics of putting keyword phrases here and there, and again over there. Not every page needs an H1 heading with keyword phrases in it. If your page isn't designed to use H1 headings, you don't need to change it to use one just for SEO purposes. And many images don't really and truly make sense with a keyword phrase in their alt attribute (alt tag). Don't force one to be there just for the search engines.

Most importantly for Google (and for your users), when it comes to your page copy and how you use your visible keyword phrases, less is definitely more. Please don't read my Nitty-gritty report and then put the same keyword phrase in every single available spot on your page that you can find. My report is supposed to help you think about a few places you may have missed because you weren't thinking about being descriptive when you originally wrote the copy. You can definitely have too much of a good thing.

A first paragraph on a page that has, say, 4 sentences, should not have 10 instances of your keyword phrase. It will look and sound dumb. I know that I have stressed this in my conference presentations and in our High Rankings seminars, but no matter how many times I say this, people don't quite grasp the importance of working this way. If your copy reads poorly to a human, and does not come across as natural professional copywriting, the search engines won't like it either.

When you do SEO, you don't follow a guidebook. Think like a search engineer and consider all the possible things they might have to combat both now and in the future. Always optimize for 3 or 4 or even up to 5 phrases, and spread them out throughout the entire page. Never, ever, ever think that it's the first paragraph that matters and stuff 'em all in there. There should be an equal distribution throughout the entire page, and you should never use the phrases so much that you hear them constantly when you read it.

If you've done it right, an everyday user should not have any idea that a page has been SEO'd. A trained SEO should be able to spot what your keyword phrases are, but it shouldn't be glaringly obvious. Last, but not least, hire a professional copywriter to work on the important pages of your site. This is the best investment you can make for your site and your business. Even if you don't want to hire an SEO, you absolutely MUST hire a professional copywriter. You need someone who really and truly understands target audiences and how to speak to them about the benefits of what you offer. You can easily teach someone like that the SEO writing part.

Hope this helps to give you some ideas on how you might get out of formula-SEO mode and start doing more creative SEO. More than ever, SEO is much more of an art than a science. The science is only a small portion of it.

Discuss this article in the Small Business Ideas forum.


September 14, 2007





CEO and founder of High Rankings®, Jill Whalen has been performing search engine optimization since 1995 and is the host of the free High Rankings Advisor search engine marketing newsletter, author of "The Nitty-gritty of Writing for the Search Engines" and founder/administrator of the popular High Rankings Search Engine Optimization Forum. In 2006, Jill co-founded SEMNE, a local search engine marketing networking organization for people and companies in New England.

High Rankings is an internationally recognized search engine optimization firm located in Framingham, MA specializing in search engine optimization, SEO consultations, in-house training, site audit reports, search marketing seminars and workshops. High Rankings has a 100% success rate for substantially improving client rankings and targeted traffic.

Jill speaks at national and international conferences and has been writing about SEO and search marketing since 2000. She's been quoted in such publications as The Wall Street Journal, U.S. News & World Report and The Washington Post. Her articles have appeared in numerous print magazines and online websites including CIO Magazine, CMS Focus, The Internet Marketing Report, ClickZ, WorkZ, Inc.com, Entrepreneur, Lycos Small Business, WebProNews, SiteProNews and others. Jill has also appeared on many online and offline radio programs such as Entrepreneur Magazine's E-Biz Radio Show, SearchEngineRadio and the eMarketing Talkshow.








Search Engine Guide > Jill Whalen > Revisited: The Art of SEO